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Where Americans Want to Travel in 2021, According to Flight Searches

Condé Nast Traveler logo Condé Nast Traveler 1/13/2021 Jessica Puckett
a waterfall with trees on the side of a mountain © Andrew Peacock / Getty Images

While travel might be on hold as COVID-19 infection rates soar in the U.S., one thing is certain: Americans are looking forward to the day they can start planning more vacations.

Recent data from travel search site Kayak show that flight searches out of U.S. airports are up for several domestic and international destinations in the new year. Although flight searches haven't recovered to pre-pandemic levels, these are some of the places trending above others. 

Even though many people aren't traveling far from home right now, it's easy to see why would-be fliers are researching trips. “While travel has largely been on hold this past year, people are starting to get back out there as vaccine news restores travelers' confidence,” Steve Hafner, CEO of Kayak, said in a statement.

Most airlines are allowing fee-free changes and cancellations throughout 2021, making it possible to book a vacation now and amend an itinerary later if necessary. If you are interested in booking, be sure to carefully read the fine print associated with your airfare to ensure the flexible policies apply to your specific ticket.

Below are five of the new trending destinations from Kayak's list. 

a view of a city: View of downtown Atlanta © Pgiam View of downtown Atlanta

5. Atlanta

One standout place in Kayak's data was Atlanta. While searches for flights to Georgia's sprawling capital city were still significantly lagging behind pre-COVID-19 numbers—they were down 38 percent year over year—it's nonetheless one of the destinations Americans are most interested in flying to in 2021. After all, it is home to an airport that regularly ranks as the world's busiest.

There's no shortage of reasons tourists would be drawn to the city: A bevy of world-class museums, sweeping parks, self-guided street art tours, and diverse international cuisine along Buford Highway all await visitors in the ATL.

a body of water with a mountain in the background: One of Anchorage's many state parks © Leieng One of Anchorage's many state parks

4. Anchorage

Visits to state and national parks are trending upward around the U.S., and so are searches for flights to Anchorage, a major gateway to Alaska's natural wonders. Although flight searches are still down 33 percent year over year, it's clear that American travelers are itching to return to Alaska—most likely for the summer high season, which offers milder temperatures and activities like dog sledding through the backcountry, glacier spotting in Kenai Fjords National Park, mountain biking through Denali National Park, and salmon fishing in Tongass National Forest, just to name a few.

a boat is docked next to a body of water: A dock in Oranjestad © dbvirago A dock in Oranjestad

3. Oranjestad, Aruba

American travelers have made it clear that in 2021, they want to be in the sun and sand. (Just take a look at these 2021 predictions from Expedia, which is also chock full of beach locales.) Part of the trend includes Oranjestad, the capital of Aruba. The island has some of the best beaches in the Caribbean, from sand bars great for snorkeling to private islands teeming with wildlife for nature lovers. Flight searches to Oranjestad, which houses the island's major airport, are down 33 percent year over year. American travelers can avoid a quarantine by suppling a mandatory negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of departure.

a group of palm trees next to a body of water: Key West's beaches have year-round appeal. © Cavan Images Key West's beaches have year-round appeal.

2. Key West, Florida

A perennial favorite for a winter getaway, Key West's boardwalk charm seems to be as appealing as ever with travelers. Flight searches are still 24 percent lower than before the pandemic. But the string of Florida islands was one of the most searched destinations on Kayak's list, proving that travelers are still craving the area's fresh local seafood, rich history, and pastel houses overlooking the water.

a large body of water: St. Thomas is an easy, passport-free destination. © SeanPavonePhoto St. Thomas is an easy, passport-free destination.

1. St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

The U.S. Virgin Islands—which includes St. John, St. Croix, and St. Thomas—were some of the first Caribbean islands to reopen to visitors. Now, Kayak's data shows that flight searches for St. Thomas specifically are beginning to close in on pre-COVID numbers, down 23 percent year over year. Home to white sand beaches, crystal clear waters, and easy access to island-hopping throughout the rest of the region, St. Thomas is a no-brainer for travelers looking to unwind. Americans don't need a passport to visit, but they do need to show a negative COVID-19 test taken within five days of departure. 

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